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Making Perfectly Sized Warm Up America! Sections

    Make perfectly sized 7″ x 9″ sections for Warm Up America! with this simple process. It’s a shortcut method of finding out your personal crochet or knitting gauge and keeping track of it so you can consistently create pieces that are the same size without a lot of guesswork.

    two 7" x 9" rectangles in lavendar-one knit and one crocheted

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    What is Warm Up America?

    Warm Up America (WUA!) is a charity made up of volunteers who knit and crochet handmade afghans, blankets, clothing and accessories to help those in need. These items provide warmth and comfort to people who have lost their homes, fled abusive situations, or who are being cared for in hospices, shelters, hospitals or nursing homes. The organization has just celebrated their 30th Anniversary! You can check out their list of current needs and learn more about how to become a volunteer with Warm Up America! on their FAQ page. There’s also a friendly and active private Facebook group for Warm Up America! Makers.

    Warm Up America! Foundation logo

    What is a “Section”?

    The most common items that WUA! volunteers make are blanket “sections”. These 7″ x 9″ [18 cm x 23 cm] rectangles can be knit or crocheted using any stitch pattern and any machine-washable yarn in any color(s). The sections are joined to create blankets of different sizes.

    teal, wine and orange crocheted sections shown in closeup

    No matter what your skill level, whether you are an absolute beginner or an experienced stitcher, you can make sections!

    However, I hear people complaining that they have trouble making their sections the correct size. While it’s OK for the sections to be just slightly under or just slightly over the required 7″ x 9″ (or 9″ x 7″), no one wants to end up with section sizes that are all over the map!

    What is the Secret?

    two women whispering The Secret? Use this shortcut method to discover your personal gauge. Then use your experience to avoid future guesswork.

    The secret to making perfectly-sized sections is in knowing your gauge for that combination of yarn, hook/needle and stitch pattern.

    Stay with me here. I know that you hate to do a gauge swatch. I get that. You want to get started on your project and you don’t want to waste time making something that you can’t use.

    What follows is not the best way to measure gauge, but I find it works all right for sections, and it gets you started stitching fast.

    The Plan for Perfectly Sized Sections

    • Keep good notes so you’ll have them to refer to later.
    • Choose a yarn and hook/needle and start stitching, guessing about how many stitches you’ll need for the width you want.
    • After about 2″ of length, stop and evaluate.
    • Depending on how close you are to your target width, either keep going, or fasten off/bind off and start over. Do not rip out!
    • If you need to start over, use the information in your 2″ long piece to check your gauge and tell you exactly how many stitches you need the next time. Go back to the first step and start again, using your actual gauge from the 2″ swatch.
    • When the piece is the desired length, fasten off or bind off. Wash and block to double-check size.

    Here’s the Secret Step-by-Step

    I’ll walk you through examples for single crochet and garter stitch. If you are using a different stitch pattern, the steps are the same. Different stitch patterns give different gauges, even with the same size tools and yarn, so you’ll want to take notes for each stitch pattern separately.

    Step 1: Grab a pencil, notebook and calculator.

    red Moleskine notebook

    Don’t use a scrap of paper that you’ll lose. I speak from experience! You may want to start a dedicated Swatch Notebook in a cute journal, Moleskine notebook, or spiral notebook. Or start a digital notebook, like the spreadsheet I’ve shared with you below. Use whatever you’ll be willing and able to refer to each time you start a new section or project.

    Download the Digital Swatch Notebook

    You may also want some hang tags or another way to label your swatch or section temporarily. I use these Avery White Strung Marking Tags to label almost everything I make.

    box of white Avery Marking tags ("hang tags")o

    Step 2: Write down this info.

    Swatch Number or Name: 1
    Stitch Pattern: (ie, single crochet, garter stitch)
    Yarn name: (and color, if you like)
    Hook or needle size from yarn label: (include mm size)
    Estimated stitch gauge from yarn label: (over 4 inches [10 cm])
    Estimated sts/inch from yarn label:
    Estimated starting sts needed: 
    Preliminary actual gauge over 4” [10 cm]:
    Notes: (leave some space after this for adding your own notes about the swatch)

    small notebook with handwritten swatch information labels (as written in blog post)

    Step 3: Fill in as much information as you can.

    Complete the information about the yarn; you’ll want this later when you make additional sections using the same yarn. If you don’t have the information from the yarn label, just do your best. If no hook or needle size is given on the yarn label, make an educated guess about what size to use, referring to the Craft Yarn Council standards.

    closeup of yarn label with gauge information

    The yarn label probably gives a suggested gauge over 4 inches [10 cm]. For crochet, the gauge is given for single crochet. For knitting, the gauge is given for stockinette stitch (knit right side rows, purl wrong side rows).

    Divide the suggested stitches per 4 inches by 4 to get the suggested number of stitches in one inch. (The downloadable Digital Swatch Notebook does this for you.)

    notebook page with swatch information handwritten

    This first gauge we are using is only a guess! It’s a starting point only, and you may get an entirely different gauge. If you know that you usually have to go up or down a hook/needle size to match most pattern gauges, go ahead and make that adjustment now. Be sure to make a note of it in your notebook, so you know what size you used for your swatch.

    Estimate the number of stitches you’ll need for a 7-inch wide swatch by multiplying the width by the stitch gauge per inch. Round to the nearest whole number if necessary.

    For example: 7 inches x 3 single crochet stitches per inch = 21 single crochets needed

    7 inches x 4.25 stockinette stitches per inch = 29.75, rounded to 30 stitches needed

    Knitters: Stockinette stitch is narrower than garter stitch. If you are working garter stitch (knit every row), you may want to round down 1-2 stitches to adjust for this difference. I’m going to do a garter stitch swatch, starting with 28 stitches at a guess.

    Important: Your cast-on width or your foundation chain length alone are never good indicators of how wide your piece will be. Don’t rely on them!

    Step 4: Start crocheting or knitting and work at last 2″ [5 cm] in pattern.

    Chain or cast on the number of stitches you need to get the number of stitches you calculated.

    For crochet, you’ll need to chain the desired number of stitches plus enough for your turning chain. (Read How Many Foundation Chains Do I Need?) Be sure to chain loosely enough to prevent the foundation chain from curving in at the bottom of the section. Alternately, you could work a foundation stitch for the first crochet row.

    For knitting, simply cast on the number of stitches you calculated.
    Work even in pattern for about 2 inches [5 cm] of length.

    Step 5: Evaluate the fabric so far.

    short garter stitch swatch with ruler on top of it
    On this swatch, I was happy with the fabric, but it was not quite wide enough.

    When you have a couple of inches completed, stop and see what you think of the fabric you’ve created so far. Are you happy with the way it feels? Is it too tight and stiff? Is it too loose and floppy?
    If you aren’t happy with it, don’t rip it out! Keep it because it contains useful information. Instead, fasten off or bind off, then continue with this step.

    Measure the actual stitch gauge over 4 inches [10 cm] of width and pencil it in the notebook. The videos below tell you how to do a better (“real”) swatch. For now, skip to the sections where I show you how to count stitches.            
    How to Measure Gauge in Single Crochet
    How to Measure Gauge in Knitted Garter Stitch

    Measure the overall width of the piece and write it in the notebook.
    If it is the desired width and you are happy with the fabric, yay! No adjustments are needed. Work even until it’s the length you want.

    Step 6: Make adjustments.

    Start a new entry in your Swatch Notebook to keep track of the changes you are making. It might look like this:

    handwritten notes in notebook for swatch #2

    Swatch Number: 2
    Stitch Pattern: (same as before)
    Yarn name: (same as before)
    Hook or needle size: (whatever size you are using for this swatch)
    Estimated gauge from previous swatch:
    Calculated sts/inch from previous swatch:
    Starting sts needed:
    Preliminary actual gauge over 4” [10 cm]:

    7" x 9" swatch with ruler showing 7" wide

    If your piece is not the desired width but you are happy with the fabric, fasten off or bind off.
    Re-calculate the number of stitches you need: multiply the actual gauge per inch by your desired width. In my example, my actual garter stitch gauge was 17 sts = 4″, which is what I was expecting my stockinette stitch gauge to be. My guess at adjusting the stitch count backfired! Based on the information I have now, I know that I should use 30 stitches across.

    Start over with this number of stitches. If you didn’t change hook/needle size, you should be very close to getting your desired width.

    Whether or not the piece is the width you want, if you are unhappy with the way the fabric behaves, adjust your hook or needle size. If it’s too stiff, go up a size or two; if it’s too loose, go down a size or two. Make an educated guess about the new gauge you’ll get, and use that as your “estimated gauge”.
    If you change the hook/needle size, you may need to repeat the process one more time to get a good result.

    Step 7: Learn from Your Experience

    When you complete a section, make sure you have captured all the information about it in your notebook.
    Don’t be quick to rip things out if they aren’t working. Make notes of the attempts that didn’t work out, so you won’t repeat your mistakes.
    Keep your swatch notebook handy and capture the information for every project. You’ll soon have a wealth of information to refer to when you begin your next project.

    However, keep in mind that different hooks, even if they are labeled as being the same size, can give differing results. Always check your gauge as you work to make sure you are continuing to get the size you want. Some people like to create a cardboard template that is 7″ by 9″ and use it to measure against.

    Use a cardboard template to help you check finished measurements
    lilac crocheted swatch on top of template, showing it is too long
    Oops, I crocheted too far! I need to rip out a couple of rows.

    Drawbacks to this Shortcut Method

    This is not a foolproof method. It’s just the quickest and easiest way I know to get the job done. Here are some of the drawbacks:

    • Is a less accurate measure per inch than a “good” swatch
    • Works best on narrower pieces; it doesn’t save time for wide pieces, where doing a regular 6″ swatch would be more efficient
    • Provides only a preliminary (inaccurate) stitch gauge; “gauge lies” more often in this scenario
    • Doesn’t give information about row gauge
    • Ignores what happens when I wash/block the fabric
    • Is less than ideal for openwork patterns that need to be stretched to allow the pattern to show

    Please never use this method when you need to make something that fits! It’s not accurate enough!

    Let me know in the comments below how this quick-and-dirty method works for you.

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